Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pancreatic shock: the doughnut test

[I started this late last night, but didn't quite finish it since I was losing the battle between consciousness and Tylenol P.M. So now, here is the complete post.]

So yeah, was feeling bored and my sweet tooth was acting up, so I decided to brave the piss-Portland weather tonight along with the hell that is 82nd avenue to get a dozen plain-glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I couldn't tell you approximately how many miles away Krispy Kreme is from where I live, but it is basically on the other side of town and it took a good half an hour to get to. What made driving especially nerve-wracking tonight was that the humidity caused by the rain made my car windows fog up. This, along with wipers at high speed, blinding headlights, buses, and assholes crossing in the middle of the street, made it a treacherous journey. All for some fucking dognuts, eh?

I finally get there, then go through the drive-thru to order my dozen. As is usual with Krispy Kreme employees, the kid on the intercom sounded extremely bored or stoned, his voice barely audible and sounding like he's too tired to even enunciate. No one will ever accuse him of being patronizing, that's for sure. He was so tired and weak/stoned that he couldn't even hold onto some of the quarters I paid with. "Don't worry 'bout it," he slurred after noticing me opening my car door to rescue a few of them. So I didn't. I drove outta there back onto the street of nightmares, going north.

However, since I was already out this far in Southeast Portland and I desperately wanted to get off of 82nd, I went into close-in Southeast to get gas, as well as a dozen at the new Voodoo Doughnuts on N.E. Davis and 15th. My bright idea was that I would do a taste test and report my findings via blog post, which is pretty much what I'm doing. However, there were a few details that I thought would hamper my very important investigation: I bought plain-glazed at the Krispy, and bought the "Voodoo" dozen at Voodoo (which means that the employee picks whatever doughnuts from the rack behind them, and by my observation it looked like what was being picked were the surplus doughnuts). This meant that I would be comparing plain glazed with the zany variety pack. I didn't even think of this while I was at Voodoo, I just asked for the representative baker's dozen. Also, it's hard to find a doughnut there that one would recognize, and that's supposed to be its charm. When I got the doughnuts back to my house, I found a plain-glazed in the Voodoo dozen, so ultimately I was able to do the test.

Even before I arrived at Voodoo though, I was having reservations about the place. I had had Voodoo doughnuts at their original location in Old town, and I never really cared for them. They were quirky to be quirky, or downright disgusting to be funny. Nyquil glazed or Pepto-Bismol glazed doughnuts,... no shit. Seems like a cruel joke, as if to say "I can't believe you actually paid money to eat this -- did you think a Nyquil doughnut was going to be delicious?" Or "Hey, if you can eat this without vomiting you must be really drunk -- now get the hell out of here!" I've never tried either of those flavors. Instead, I had ones like the Grape Ape, which is some sort of grape cereal and grape frosted doughnut, or a maple bacon bar, which is a traditional maple bar with two pieces of crispy bacon on top. The bacon maple bar was pretty good, but the grape ape was just strange. I guess this sort of clouds my objectivity in a proper assessment, but I was hoping that this time they would prove me wrong.

The doom metal was blasting through the entryway when I walked into the place, which was filled with two mobs of people at the counter, one middle-aged mustachioed guy playing pinball, and another younger guy on his laptop (doing homework?). The interior was decorated sparsely, with newspaper clippings, what looked like a music poster of a now extinct hawaiian lounge singer, and a velvet picture of Kenny Rogers. Strangely enough, Voodoo's interior closely resembles that of Dot's, the bar over on Clinton St. Or maybe that's not so strange -- it has the same clientele, and basically has all the trappings of bar culture minus the booze (with the exception of a few frosting flavors like Jack Daniels or Jagermeister). The phrase "quintessential Portland establishment" would be appropriate here, which tends to be code for young and hipsterish.

So, I got my employee picks and got out of there. Back to my house, where I unloaded my treats and set out to settle this all-important matter. The Voodoo dozen was a very colorful array, each doughnut coated with candy glitter, or cereal, or shredded coconut -- and the one plain-glazed. After wolfing down the plain-glazed from each, I must say that the Krispy Kreme is still the tastier doughnut. It's richer, it has a better texture, it's cooked more uniformly. I realize that these traits are probably a result of their industrial doughnut machine, but nevertheless -- they taste better. In the plain-glazed category, they have Voodoo beat.

The Voodoo doughnut wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. It wasn't what one would expect from the renowned shop with its high reputation and fanaticism. And yes, it's true that people don't go to Voodoo to just get any ol' doughnut, and it's true that Krispy Kreme doesn't do as good when it goes beyond its plain boundaries. Krispy Kreme's "cream-filled" are filled with a substance more like cool-whip, and their chocolate glaze doesn't taste like chocolate, it just tastes sweet, and is cloying. Still, the true test of a food establishment is to test their basics, their fundamentals. It's a competency test. If they can't get that right then how good can they really be? Starbucks is a good example of this. Their plain coffee always tastes burnt, probably because they spend all of their time on foofy fucking drinks that taste less like coffee and more like milkshakes. Countless breakfast places that I've gone into have ambitious menus, but when I ordered a classic eggs over medium/bacon/potato dish, they fucked it all up. Many restaurants are like that too; so concerned with dazzling the shit out of you that they forget how to cook a steak or a hamburger properly. These type of places are either being pretentious, or always have an eye on the trend of markets. And sorry, Voodoo Doughnuts is no exception.

I know that I am supposed to be supportive of local establishments, but they just don't cut it. It's not a place to go to when you're in the mood for a doughnut, it's a place to take out-of-towners to when they ask "What's up with the 'Keep Portland Weird' bumper stickers?" So yes, in this case, I am saying that the cookie-cutter corporation trumps the local eccentric funhouse in terms of flavor.

There you have it. My opinion on doughnuts. Incredible.

4 more days till school starts.


  1. Say, when is PCC going to offer a doughnut class? I'm thinking Sociology of Doughnuts, Crosscultural Views of Doughnuts, Applied Doughnut Studies, Doughnut Field Internship, Doughnut Intervention, Doughnut Materials Technology, etc. I would certainly sign up for a class or two. Hell, I might change my major.

  2. Hell yeah, me too. Unfortunately, majoring in Doughnut Studies is a hard row to hoe: Your instructors constantly calling you a "doughnut," the people pointing and laughing at the grease dribbling down your chin. Ya know, college life. Here are some class suggestions: History of the Maple Bar, Film Studies: Doughnuts in Film, or how about Global Doughnut Politics: local shop vs national chain.